An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Nativity of St. John the Baptist, The

This feast of our Lord is celebrated on June 24 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. Luke’s gospel (Chapter 1) records that John was miraculously born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were childless and advanced in age when John was conceived. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear him a son who would be named John. Zechariah received this startling announcement with disbelief, and he was struck speechless. Zechariah’s speech was restored on the eighth day after John’s birth, when John was named and circumcised. At this time, Zechariah uttered the canticle known as the Benedictus Dominus Deus(Lk 1:67-79), which is one of the canticles for the Daily Office (see Canticles 4 and 16, BCP, pp. 50-51, 92-93). Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy when Gabriel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation. Mary was related to Elizabeth, and Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth had conceived a son in her old age. The feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist was originally associated with the Epiphany, but its observance was moved to June 24 in the west and June 25 in the east. This feast is celebrated about six months before Christmas, as Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy at the time of Jesus’ conception. Propers for celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist were included in the Leonine, Gelasian, and Gregorian sacramentaries. The feast was included in the 1549 BCP.

As an adult, John lived an ascetic life in the Judean wilderness. His life and appearance recalled the prophetic tradition of the OT. He was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey. The word of God came to him, and he went into the region around the Jordan River to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John called the people to prepare for the coming of the kingdom of God and the advent of the Messiah. Many people came to John to receive his baptism, including Jesus. John exhorted the people to live righteously (see Lk 3:10-14). He told them to share clothes and food with the needy. He urged tax collectors to collect no more than was appointed for them, and he told soldiers to rob no one by violence or false accusation. John stated that he was not the Christ (Jn 1:20). John acknowledged that his influence would decrease as Christ’s influence increased (Jn 3:30). He had many followers, some of whom later became disciples of Jesus (Jn 1:35-37). John criticized Herod the tetrarch for his incestuous marriage to Herodias, and for other evil deeds. John was imprisoned, and later executed at the urging of Herodias (Mt 14:1-12). John is ranked second only to the Virgin Mary among the saints in the eastern church. The collect for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist prays that we may “follow his teaching and holy life” and “truly repent according to his preaching” so that we may “constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake” (BCP, p. 241). See John the Baptist.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.